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America's Best Whitewater Rafting Destinations

Whitewater rafting can be the adventure of a lifetime. On a rafting expedition, you'll experience heart-stopping thrills, rushes of adrenaline, beautiful scenery and time with friends old and new. Whether you're new to the sport or an old pro, here are four U.S. whitewater rafting destinations to explore.

Best for Beginners
South Fork of the American River
Sacramento, CA

White Water Rafting
Photo Credit Thinkstock

New to whitewater rafting or taking kids along for your adventure? The South Fork of the American River in the Sacramento, California area is the place to go. This stretch of the river boasts Class II and Class III rapids, plus beautiful scenery through Gold Country and the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Although there's enough challenge to get your heart racing, there will also be plenty of downtime for relaxation and relationship-building. Some outfitters will allow children as young as eight to join a trip on the South Fork.

Looking for more intense excitement in the area? The river's Middle and North Forks offer more challenging rapids, going all the way up to Class V.

Best for an Extended Trip
Middle Fork of the Salmon River
20 miles northwest of Stanley, Idaho

Salmon River Rafting
Photo Credit Brent Stirton/Exclusive By Getty Images

For a river experience that lasts more than one day, visit the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. This 100-mile trip offers both peaceful stretches and Class IV rapids. Over the course of the trip, you'll drop 2,700 feet in elevation. For the biggest rapids, plan your visit to the Middle Fork during late May or early June.

The Middle Fork is an excellent vacation destination, and most outfitters offer float trips that last five or six days. During the trip, you'll navigate the river by day and camp by night. Many float trips are open to entire families, including young children.

Best for Experts
Upper Yough
Western Maryland

Expert Rafters
Photo Credit Thinkstock

The upper section of Western Maryland's Youghiogheny River, better known as the Upper Yough (pronounced “Yock”), is a great whitewater run, but only if you have plenty of experience under your belt. Rapids here go from Class III to Class V, and with areas named like Double Pencil Sharpener, Meat Cleaver and Triple Drop, you know you're in for a wild ride. For part of the trip, the river drops nearly 120 feet per mile. After mile-after-mile of heart pounding action, there's a cool down section at the end, so you can catch your breath and enjoy the scenery before returning to land.

Because of the intense nature of this river, most outfitters require participants to be at least 16 years old and to have prior rafting experience.

Best for Scenic Views
Chattooga River
Georgia-South Carolina border line

Photo Credit Thinkstock

Named a Wild and Scenic River by Congress in 1974, the Chattooga River makes for a lovely whitewater rafting experience. This river, which forms the state line dividing Georgia and South Carolina, features breathtaking views of untouched wilderness.

The rafting portions of the Chattooga are divided into three different areas: Section II with Class II rapids, Section III with mostly Class II and Class III rapids and one Class IV area, and Section IV with Class IV and V rapids. Sections II and III are often recommended for family outings, and Section IV for rafters with previous experience. Most outfitters offer Section III and IV adventures, plus overnight trips on which you can experience both of those stretches.

Meghan Ross is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on

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